When talking about the top songs from 1978, disco and punk feature prominently. That’s not to say there wasn’t hits from other genres in this year though.
Here are some examples of the variety encompassed by 1978’s most successful songs, from jazz to pop to disco.
“Shadow Dancing” by Andy Gibb
You can’t talk about good music from 1978 without discussing disco music.
Gibb and his brothers composed “Shadow Dancing” while filming Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club. They wanted a relaxing way to spend their downtime, so started collaborating on a song. Ten minutes later, the chorus of “Shadow Dancing” was born.
The song was part of an album by the same name, and it was top of the charts for seven weeks. It wasn’t Gibb’s only 1978 success in North America, but it was the last one to climb to the top of a Billboard chart.
“Stayin’ Alive” by The Bee Gees
Few groups are as synonymous with the seventies as The Bee Gees, and “Stayin’ Alive” was their biggest hit.
One reason it was instantly recognizable was that it was the song that introduced Saturday Night Fever every week.
“Kiss You All Over” by Exile
“Kiss You All Over” debuted on Exile’s third album. Jimmy Stockley was the lead vocalist, and it was his last album with the band. By 1979, Stockley was out of the band and in increasingly poor health.
The other notable thing about “Kiss You All Over” is that it signposts the shift by Exile from the soft rock singles that brought them such musical success to country music.
“Last Dance” by Donna Summer
“Last Dance” started as a crucial musical cue for Thank God It’s Friday. But it wasn’t only a triumph within the context of the film.
“Last Dance” achieved tremendous critical acclaim, including:
- Academy Award for Best Original Song
- Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song
- Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Performance
“Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon
Another of the best songs of 1978 began as a joke between friends. After watching a 1930s horror film, Phil Everly whimsically suggested Zevlon use the title as inspiration for his next song.
The film was Werewolves of London, and the joke was quickly on Zevlon and Everly. Zevon and friends wrote the song in 15 minutes but never took it seriously. Jackson Browne did and started performing “Werewolves” in concerts. It was an immediate success.
So, Zevon recorded the song for his third album, Excitable Boy. It featured members of Fleetwood Mac on the drums and bass and consumed much of the album’s budget. But it sat on the Top 40 charts of 1978 for over a month, making the agony of recording worthwhile.
“You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone
“You Light Up My Life” was another of the best songs of 1978. It’s a ballad song and first appeared in a film by the same name. The film and the singer who performed it both enjoyed success, but it paled in comparison to Debby Boone’s cover.
As sung by Boone, “You Light Up My Life” sat at the top of the charts for ten weeks, outperforming:
- “Don’t Be Cruel/Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley
- “Mack The Knife” by Bobby Darrin
- Theme from A Summer Night by Percy Faith
“Three Times a Lady” by The Commodores
Soul was also part of what constituted good music from 1978. The Commodores' “Three Times A Lady” is an excellent example.
It gave The Commodores their first hit and sat at the top of several charts for two weeks. It also has the distinction of being the first Mowton hit to reach the top of America’s Billboard 100.
“Boogie Oogie Oogie” by A Taste of Honey
As discussed, disco featured heavily in shaping the landscape of good music from 1978.
“Boogie Oogie Oogie” is another disco success from that year. It appeared on A Taste of Honey’s first album in the summer of 1978 and was immediately popular.
Part of its success hinged on “Boogie Oogie Oogie” as more than a disco song. It also incorporated musical conventions from pop and soul, ensuring there was something for all listeners to enjoy.
“You’re the One That I Want” by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John
Another 1978 musical sensation was the musical Grease. Proving this, “You’re the One That I Want” as sung by Travolta and Newton-John on the soundtrack album wasn’t just one of the best songs of 1978. It’s also one of the best-selling singles in history.
It’s estimated more than 15 million copies of the album have been sold, and people are still listening.
“Grease” by Frankie Vali
Many of the best songs from 1978 came from the musical Grease. To list all of them is impossible, but the titular song deserves mentioning.
When Frankie Vali’s single “Grease” debuted, it sold over seven million copies. It appeared twice on the soundtrack album, despite never appearing in the film.
But that didn’t stop people from loving the song. Radios couldn’t get enough of it, and judging by the copies the single sold, neither could anyone else.
“I Go Crazy” by Paul Davis
Paul Davis composed and recorded “I Go Crazy” in 1977. That makes it sound ineligible as one of the best songs of 1978, but once it got onto the music charts in 1977 it proved hard to shake. It was still on the Billboard 100 and still climbing in 1978.
It stayed there until May 1978, breaking the record for the longest time spent at the top of the charts at that time.
Davis’ song about the awkwardness of encountering an old flame and feeling residual feelings resonated deeply. The result was that it was inarguably one of the best songs from 1978.
“Emotion” by Samantha Sang
Australian singer Samantha Sang didn’t have many hit singles. But the one she had in 1978 made up for it. Written by Barry and Robin Gibb, “Emotion” is another of the best songs of 1978. Sang arrived in America intending to record a version of “Don’t Throw It All Away.”
Instead, Gibb offered Sang a new song. She did the vocals for “Emotion,” with Gibb’s notorious falsetto on the harmony. Sang gave the melody a Gibb-like breathiness that was immediately popular with listeners.
The song was so successful that The Bee Gees recorded a version in 1984 to capitalize on its popularity. However, their rendition didn’t get released until 2001 as part of their album Greatest Hits.
“Lay Down Sally” by Eric Clapton
Another notorious artist when discussing good music from 1978 is Eric Clapton. Clapton collaborated with Marcy Levi and George Terry on “Lay Down Sally.”
He then went out of his way to style it as much as possible, like a band from Tulsa. The song was a country-inspired composition, and Clapton wanted to replicate the country sensibility as much as a British-born musician could.
That he succeeded is evidenced by how “Lay Down Sally” became one of the best songs of 1978.
“Miss You” by The Rolling Stones
It’s also tricky to talk about the best songs of 1978 without talking about The Rolling Stones.
They released “Miss You” in the spring of 1978. It anticipated an upcoming album and existed in two versions. There was the initial single, which went straight to the top of the UK and North American charts, and there was the “Special Disco Version.”
It was the band’s first remix of a song, and they issued it on a 12-inch single. It included several extra instrumental solos in the remix, taking it to over eight minutes long.
“Just the Way You Are” by Billy Joel
Another of the best songs of 1978 was “Just the Way You Are” by Billy Joel.
Joel famously said his inspiration for the chords and music for the song came to him in a dream. The title was inspired by a line in “Rag Doll” by The Four Seasons.
Because Joel wrote the song with his first wife in mind, he didn’t initially want to include it on his album The Stranger. But several other artists in his studio heard the song and were insistent.
Joel capitulated, and his colleagues were proved right when “Just The Way You Are” proved a musical triumph.
“Dance, Dance, Dance” by Chic
Chic’s first American single was also one of the best songs of 1978. “Dance, Dance, Dance” quickly reached sixth place on the R&B and pop charts. It also had success on the disco charts.
Sometimes called “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsha, Yowsha, Yowsha),” the parenthetical exclamation has an interesting history. It originated in the 1920s with Bennie Bernie. He was a jazz violinist prone to this unlikely vocalization.
When his career ended, it faded into obscurity until the sixties, when a film called They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? revitalized the expression.
“Feels So Good” by Chuck Mangione
Jazz is less synonymous with the seventies than disco or punk. But it’s also an incredibly fluid genre, ever adapting to its new environment.
That’s why one of the best songs of 1978 was Chuck Mangione’s “Feels So Good.”
It’s a jazz fusion song, meaning it takes jazz conventions and mixes them with other genres like:
The jazz improvisations are still there, but the sound is newer and, to younger listeners especially, “cooler.”
It certainly worked in Mangione’s favor; “Feel So Good” skyrocketed to number four on the American charts following its release in 1978.
“We Will Rock You” by Queen
Few songs are as immediately recognizable as Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” It’s distinctive for many reasons, not least its use of foot stomping and clapping as the only accompaniment. The one exception is an equally distinctive guitar solo.
In addition to being one of the best songs of 1978, “We Will Rock You” gained increasing fame with time. It is also one of the:
- 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2004)
- Number 146 on the 2001 Songs of the Century list
- Included in Grammy Hall of Fame
“Can’t Smile Without You” by Barry Manilow
“Can’t Smile Without You” was written in collaboration by Christian Arnold, Geoff Morrow, and David Martin. Several artists, including The Carpenters, recorded it. But the best-known rendition is by Barry Manilow.
Manilow’s version became one of the best songs of 1978 when it simultaneously reached number one on the American Contemporary music charts and number three on the Billboard 100.
Manilow’s version uses lyrics slightly different from other recordings, most notably those of The Carpenters.
Like all the best Manilow songs, “Can’t Smile Without You” blends sweetness with a slow-building yearning for something unavailable.
“It’s a Heartache” by Bonnie Tyler
One of the best soft rock examples of good music from 1978 is Bonnie Tyler’s “It’s a Heartache.”
Jazz talent Ronnie Scott and Steve Wolfe wrote the song. It was one of the first songs Tyler recorded after recovering from a procedure to remove nodes from her vocal cords.
You wouldn’t guess it. The song was number one on charts across Canada, Australia, and Europe, while attaining a respectable three on the American music charts.
“Love Is Like Oxygen” by Sweet
The British group Sweet wrote and released “Love is Like Oxygen” in 1978.
Guitarist Andy Scott co-wrote the piece with Trevor Griffith. Previous songs by Sweet had been guitar and vocally heavy. “Love Is Like Oxygen” got people’s attention because of its use of strings and disco techniques.
The eclectic combination worked, and “Love Is Like Oxygen” quickly became one of the best songs of 1978.
“Baker St.” by Gerry Rafferty
One of the more curious examples of good music from 1978 is Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker St.”
At the time of composition, Rafferty commuted regularly between Glasgow and London on the overnight train. He was battling financial problems and often stayed in a friend’s flat on Baker St. To unwind, they played guitar, and in the process, Rafferty wrote “Baker St.”
It’s notable because of its guitar solo and saxophone riff between verses performed by Raphael Ravenscroft.
“Too Much, Too Little, Too Late” by Johnny Matthias and Deniece Williams
When Matthias collaborated with Williams on “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late,” it was part of a comeback. His last hit had been in 1964, and Matthias wanted to re-energize his career.
It worked, and “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late” proved one of the best songs of 1978. Still, with Williams, Matthias released another single later that year called “You’re All I Need to Get By.”
Eventually, buoyed by the singles’ success, they issued a CD of duets called That’s What Friends Are For.
“Slip Slidin’ Away” by Paul Simon
Paul Simon is usually thought of as part of a duo. But by 1978, Simon had released several albums of his own. It appeared on Greatest Hits Etc and was especially popular in Canada and Australia. However, it was also successful in the rest of North America and Britain.
Like many of Simon’s compositions, it effortlessly blended a catchy melody with thoughtful lyrics and a hint of melancholy. The combination worked well, and “Slip Slidin’ Away” became one of the best songs of 1978.
“Take a Chance on Me” by ABBA
Not talking about ABBA in light of good music from 1978 would be a notable omission.
“Take a Chance on Me” was originally called “Billy Boy.” The title didn’t stick, instead taking its title from the lyrics.
As for the lyrics, they came from one of the singer’s routine running rhythms. That gave the song not only its internal rhythm but the repeated phrase “Take a chance.”
The resultant song produced what some people described as a wall of sound. The effect was electric and helped make “Take a Chance on Me” not only one of the best songs of 1978 but one of ABBA’s most successful pieces.
“Still the Same” by Bob Seeger and The Silver Bullet Band
Another of the best songs from 1978 is Bob Seeger’s “Still The Same.” Its combination of upbeat piano and lyrics inspired by the interesting people around Seeger intrigued people.
Contrasting the piano, the vocals have a rhythm-and-blues feel that adds an unexpected texture to the song’s sound and contributed to its success.
“Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” by Santa Esmeralda
“Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” was originally written for jazz artist Nina Simone in 1964.
However, many other artists made successful recordings of this song, including Santa Esmeralda, who turned it into one of the best songs of 1978.
Esmeralda made it a disco hit, but it has also been done as a blues number, a country rock piece, and a jazz standard.
Top Songs From 1978, Final Thoughts
The best songs from 1978 were heavily influenced by the music of the decade. Disco featured prominently, as did rock, R&B, and pop music.
The upshot is that there’s a 1978 hit for almost every musical taste. Some are whimsical, like “Werewolves of London.” Others are melancholic. What these songs have in common is that they ranked as the best songs of 1978 and are still favorites today.